FORMER Oxford United manager Ron Saunders has died at the age of 87.

The news was announced by Aston Villa, who he led into the First Division and went on to win the top flight title in 1980/81.

United gave the then-37-year-old his first taste of management in the Football League, hiring him in February 1969 after a spell as player/manager at Yeovil Town.

He came in as Arthur Turner stepped aside and given the job of keeping the U's in Division Two.

Arriving with the side bottom of the table, he won six and drew three of his 12 games to secure survival.

But he was not under contract, so left that summer to join Norwich City, going on to win the second tier title in 1972.

He went on to manage Manchester City, before enjoying eight years at Villa.

From there went on to joining bitter rivals Birmingham City, followed by 19 months at West Brom, concluding with his sacking in 1987.

He remains the only manager to have taken charge of all three Second City clubs.

The Villa statement read: "It is the sad duty of Aston Villa Football Club to announce that our former manager, Ron Saunders, has passed away at the age of 87.

"He died earlier today, Saturday 7th December, at 3pm and his family have asked for their privacy to be respected at such a difficult time.

"Widely regarded as one of the club's greatest ever managers, he guided Villa to promotion in his first season in charge, lifted two League Cups and steered the club to a league championship in 1980/81."